U.S. Ambassador Warns Jewish Leaders: Israel Could Risk Civil War if Settlements Dismantled

'The settlers aren't going anywhere,' David Friedman announced to a group of U.S. Jewish leaders at a conference in Jerusalem, Channel 10 News reported

Laborers work at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim. February 7, 2017
AP Photo/Oded Balilty

WASHINGTON – U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman warned a group of Jewish American leaders that Israel could face the risk of civil war if it ever dismantled its settlements in the West Bank, Israel's Channel 10 News reported on Monday.

Friedman made the comment during a meeting with a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, which is visiting Jerusalem this week.

According to the report, Friedman explained to the Jewish leaders that "the settlers aren't going anywhere" and that the Trump administration does not believe a peace agreement is necessary for Israel to remain both Jewish as well as democratic. He reportedly added that because members of the national religious sector have gained more senior positions in the Israeli military in recent years, a future evacuation of settlements could lead to an internal rift and even a potential civil war.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson pointed out that Channel 10 based their report "upon three attendees at the conference who failed to provide much of the context behind Ambassador Friedman’s comments as well as significant additional and related remarks by the Ambassador. 

"Ambassador Friedman made clear in his remarks that the President is committed to a comprehensive peace agreement that benefits both Israelis and Palestinians," the U.S. spokesperson explained, and assured that "the U.S. is working on a plan to achieve that goal." Explaining Friedman's comment on the settlements, the spokesperson added that "the Ambassador believes that unrestrained settlement growth is not helpful for peace."

Stephen M. Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, Chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, respectively, refuted the report and said that "the words attributed to him [Friedman] were taken out of context, are incomplete, and are therefore a distortion of the ambassador’s remarks.”

Friedman has made a number of controversial statements on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since assuming office last year. He described Israel's occupation in the West Bank as "alleged" and said Israel only controls 2 percent of the West Bank's territory. After those comments, the State Department in Washington clarified that there was "no change in our position" regarding the status of the West Bank, which previous American administrations have treated as occupied territory.

Two weeks ago, Friedman attacked Haaretz over an article that personally criticized his ties to the settlement movement. Before becoming the ambassador to Israel, he donated and raised funds for the West Bank settlement of Bet El. He also said that the left-wing Jewish group J Street was "worse than Kappos," a statement he later backtracked from during his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committtee.